On a blustery Monday afternoon in early November, time trial specialist Jonathan Shubert achieved his goal of riding 100 miles in less than three hours. It’s a feat that seems unbelievable, but it looks almost certain that he will be awarded the official title by the Road Records Association (RRA), establishing a blistering new mark of 2:57:58.
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That’s an average speed of around 33.6mph (over 54km/h) achieved on a point-to-point course mostly on dual carriageways that started just east of Milton Keynes, and finished near the village of Keswick, Norfolk. Shubert said the tailwind on the day was about 26mph, and he was forced to do most of the 100 miles in just one gear (more on that later). To clarify, RRA records technically aren’t ‘time trials’ as they can be set outside of a competition, therefore this will become the new ‘RRA Straight Out 100 mile record’. UK competition records are kept by Cycling Time Trials, with Marcin Bialoblocki holding the CTT record at 3:13:37.
As much as anything, setting an RRA record is about waiting for the right day, with the right wind conditions to get the fastest time possible, something Shubert says is “part of the whole history and glamour of it”.
“People are like, 'How many watts did you do?'. But it’s not all about the legs, there are so many other factors and that’s what makes it exciting”, he explained.
“You have to be on top of it with your planning, you have to be meticulous. One day there will be a better wind, one day I’ll be in better shape but that’s how it is really.
“The thing I was after was the first man to break the three hour barrier. It’s a special thing to have done that I never would have dreamed of.”
While numerous RRA records from the 90s still stand, every now and then someone will come along and take a record on, and a domino effect begins. Shubert credits Michael Broadwith (above), a prominent member of the RRA and the Land’s End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) record holder, for the recent flurry of record attempts: “Mike has done a great job of broadcasting and publicising their records”, said Shubert.
“The RRA has been around since 1888. You’ll have these years where there’s a surge in records and riders battling between each other, then someone comes along and puts it on the shelf and no one dares go near for another 20 years until technology has improved.
“I think people are now realising, 'These are a bit soft'. With our understanding of aerodynamics today, a lot of people are attempting the records, some quite high profile.
“Ian Cammish's record stood for 27 years. No one even contemplated it for years because it was so ridiculously fast back then.”
The course and preparation
Shubert says some RRA challengers will travel the length of the country to search for the quickest course possible, but he settled on a route that started just a 90 minute drive from where he lives. Although admitting it might not be the absolute quickest in the country, the route connected up three of the UK’s fastest time trial courses, and was recommended by fellow RRA experts such as Broadwith so he could best utilise the tailwind on the right day.
“If you’re going to use a tailwind, you want it all to be in the same trajectory, you can’t have it waving around”, Shubert explained.
“When you get to 100 miles you’re limited on options with just travelling in a straight line. It wasn’t all quick; there was a 20 mile section of single carriageway that was an uphill drag, but most of it was pretty fast.”
Shubert and his support crew (which included Broadwith) knew the route well, as he had actually lowered the record held by Ian Cammish on the same course less than two weeks previously. Taking three minutes off Cammish’s 3:11:11 set way back in 1993, Shubert said the tailwind was much lower than expected, and he kept half an eye on the wind conditions in the days following:
“We were looking a few days out and this day popped up on our radars. We thought it was too good to miss and it’s a bit of pot luck, so you have to be prepared and be ready to go when it arrives.
“Everything else was the same. We knew the route and had done all the reconnaissance.”
With two support cars in tow, Shubert feels the heavy use of dual carriageways was plenty safe enough for the purposes of his record attempt. A worry was that the timekeeping vehicle would be unable to get to the finish if a tailback occurred, something that happened to Cammish during a record attempt in the 90s. So there was no chance of this happening again, one of the vehicles went ahead to the finish line at 90 miles to make sure the time could be verified.
“People think they [dual carriageways] are unsafe; but if you actually look at the statistics, the number of incidents is about four times lower than rural circuits, because the visibility’s good and there’s usually decent signage out there”, said Shubert.
“On a fast moving road like that, you’re not going to hit any stationary objects. Everything is moving out of the away, so it’s actually super safe. It wasn’t during rush hour, so the level of traffic for those roads was plenty low enough.”
Nutrition and execution
RRA rules stipulate that officials and follow cars aren’t allowed to give any instructions or support, so Shubert relied on data from his GPS and encouragement from people who had come out to cheer him on. Although admitting that he’s big a fan of data, with ten metrics on his Garmin screen during the ride, Shubert was keen to stress that power is of less importance when travelling at such high speeds:
“I realised when you’re doing over 35mph, there’s no point pedalling at 300 watts because you’re just wasting a lot of energy, so I was more going off my speed. If my speed dropped to 28mph I’d be annoyed with myself and thought I was going too slow, not something I’d normally say to myself.
“When I saw my speed drop I’d just say, 'Hold 330 watts for the next ten minutes because you know this is a long drag'. But when the speeds were silly, say over 40mph, I’d know to back off and freewheel.”
With his bodyweight at around 68kg, Shubert needed a normalised power output of 295 watts and average power of 285 watts to achieve his time on the day: “I’m in such an extreme position, that if I was on a road bike I could definitely put more than 300 watts out for that duration”, he added.
“It’s a compromise, because the hip angle is so tight it’s harder to get power out. It’s a thing a lot of people don’t understand, that power is only a small factor in the whole thing. I had to keep telling myself to keep my head low and stay in an aerodynamic position, that’s far more important.”
For fuelling, Shubert relied on “a couple” of new pectin gels from up-and-coming nutrition brand Mountain Fuel, laced with 50mg of caffeine and 30g of carbs. For fluid, he got through two litres of water delivered through a CamelBak. Picking the right time to drink and take on gels was key, with Shubert stressing that he tried not to move out of his aero tuck when he was on a particularly fast section.
Shubert’s bike is an intriguing mish-mash, with some parts brand new, some over a decade old, and aerobars hand-made by the man himself. Here’s a brief spec list:
Giant Trinity frameset (circa 2009 approx)
Hed Jet 9 front wheel
Zipp Sub-9 rear disc wheel
Vittoria Corsa Speed 25mm tyres
Quarq power meter
View-Speed titanium skewers
Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 series shifters and rear mech
11-28 Shimano Dura-Ace cassette
62t chainring (plus electrical tape)
170mm crank arms
Speedplay Zero Aero pedals
TRP brakes, custom CNC-milled
Custom ‘ProjectSub3’ 3D-printed bars (carbon wrapped)
Digirit oversized pulley wheel system
KMC X11-EL Gold chain with Muc-Off Hydro lube
The aero extensions, named ‘ProjectSub3’, were designed and made by Shubert, 3D-printed and then wrapped in carbon. After showing some “remarkable drag reductions” in testing, Shubert is confident the (non UCI-legal) bars can be used by triathletes and time triallists with great success in the future.
“There are some other features on them that I can’t disclose at the moment, but make them very unique and appealing to triathletes and time triallists”, he said.
“The arm doesn’t go inside them, but the sides run almost flush to the arm. They have an aerofoil frontal shape that guides the arms really nicely into the forearms by reducing the pressure and the drag far better than anything else out there.
“We’ve done a fair bit of testing, and over my previous set-up they were saving a minimum of 10 watts, so quite substantial.”
The Giant Trinity frame is “about 11 or 12 years old”. Developed by leading aerodynamicist Simon Smart, Shubert thinks it’s still “one of the fastest frames out there”, and claims to have recorded the lowest drag coefficient (CdA) of anyone tested at the Boardman Performance Centre on a road time trial bike: “I think it was 0.167. And that was on a set-up that was slower than I had for the record”, he added.
The TRP brakes, CNC-milled to fit on the Giant Trinity, are turned inline to match the aerofoil profile of the handlebars, and provide just as much stopping power as the standard dropped down position according to Shubert. The mount for his computer is also custom-made, and built into the aero extensions: “It puts my computer exactly where I wanted it while also being slightly hidden from the wind”, said Shubert.
His chainset, fitted with a Quarq power meter, has a single 62t chainring, with electrical tape added in an effort to create a smoother shape where the wind meets its jagged edges. Coupled with oversized jockey wheels, Shubert says the large chainring makes for a smoother chainline with fewer opportunities for the chain to bend.
Despite meticulous planning, Shubert admits that the attempt was almost derailed when he discovered that the pulley arm on his rear derailleur was damaged, meaning there was next to no tension in the chain when he attempted to switch gear: “I basically had to stay in one gear for 100 miles”, he said.
“There was a couple of changes, but mostly the whole thing was in 62x13 (equivalent to around 52x11). It meant I had to really grind up some of the climbs, and then on some of the faster sections I had to pedal at around 120RPM. It did a lot of damage to my legs that I was feeling at the back end of my ride.”
Shubert’s front wheel is a Hed Jet9, which he claims is “virtually the fastest out there”, and on the rear is a Zipp Sub9. He also sourced titanium wheel skewers from US specialists View-Speed. With smooth sides and no levers to catch the wind, the ends are also drilled out slightly to save some weight.
At the moment Shubert’s record is technically provisional; but with Broadwidth and the RRA all but confirming the new mark via social media, it looks like the record will be made official within 28 days. You can also see the evidence for yourself on Strava... which someone flagged at first (“understandable”, says Shubert) but now appears to have been unflagged.
Despite some slight cramping towards the end of his record-breaking ride, Shubert said he felt fully recovered the morning after, and went out for a ride with friends that evening...
Main image: James Lucas | Jelignite Photography
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